Recession is nothing new for Michigan


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    The Bomber Restaurant in Ypsilanti, Mich. It's named for the former Willow Run bomber plant up the road. During World War II, Ford built the plant to crank out B-24 military aircraft.

    - Amy Scott / Marketplace

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    John Sebastian owns the Bomber Restaurant. He says business rises and falls depending on the price of gas. Right now he suspects customers are holding onto any money they have.

    - Amy Scott / Marketplace

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    A sign at the Bomber Restaurant.

    - Amy Scott / Marketplace

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    Travis Smerdon, left, and Sean Hoydic call themselves political sparring partners. But both agree Michigan officials aren't doing enough for the state economy.

    - Amy Scott / Marketplace

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    Jim Kovach, left, and Andy Grohowski at the Bomber Restaurant in Ypsilanti, Mich. Kovach says he sees the recession in the state by the lack of commuters on their way to work.

    - Amy Scott

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    Another empty business in Ypsilanti, Mich.

    - Amy Scott / Marketplace

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    A sign outside the UAW office in Canton, Mich.

    - Amy Scott / Marketplace

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    A sign of recession near Ann Arbor, Mich.

    - Amy Scott / Marketplace

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    Cierra Mitchell is a senior at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She's worried about her ability to find a job when she graduates.

    - Amy Scott

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

KAI RYSSDAL: Our New York Bureau Chief Amy Scott has been working out of her car for the past week or so. She and our colleague, Tess Vigeland, have been on matching trips trying to find out whether Wall Street and the credit crisis have helped send America down the Road to Ruin.

The three of us are going to meet up in St. Louis the day after tomorrow for a special broadcast from there. But in the meanwhile, Amy, it's been a couple of days. Last we knew you were in Youngstown, Ohio, I think. Where you been since?

PERSON: Well, from Youngstown I headed even deeper into car country, into the Detroit area. I started out at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where I talked to students about how they were feeling about the economy and their futures. And I found that the closer they were to graduation the more freaked out they were.

Cierra Mitchell is a senior psychology major.

CIERRA MITCHELL: Gas prices are high. Food is high. It's hard to get a loan, you

know, for school -- things like that. And my credit-card bill, the interest rates are a lot higher now. Like, overnight, it seemed like it just shot up real fast, so . . . .

SCOTT: So, it's a pretty scary time to be striking out on your own.

RYSSDAL: Yeah, I can't even imagine. Listen, there is talk out there about the "R" word, the recession. One of the reasons we sent you to Michigan, though, was to find out what a state that is, arguably, already in recession looks like. What are you seeing?

PERSON: I've seen a lot of For Rent signs, vacant buildings, um, and relics from what used to be a thriving auto and manufacturing industry. I stopped in a place called the Bomber Restaurant in Ypsilanti. It's named for the Ford Willow Run plant down the road that made B-24 bombers during World War II. And I talked to Jim Kovach, who installs security systems for corporations. He says not only is his business slow -- he says customers are reluctant to spend money right now -- but he says he can really see it on the road.

JIM KOVACH: Probably half to 60 percent of my days are spent on the freeways. And I can judge by how well people are doing by how many people are on the freeways in the morning trying to get to work. And lately in the last couple months it's just been dwindling.

SCOTT: Now, Kai, that may have a lot to do with gas prices, of course. But Kovach believes that with so many layoffs, fewer people are simply on their way to work. And, in fact, just after I talked to him I met a few people who had just lost their jobs. One of them was Steve Granke, who had been working for a supplier to the Big 3 auto companies.

STEVE GRANKE: I'm a product engineer and I recently got separated from my company on September 8th. And I had already two other jobs lined up, but both of them failed because they started laying people off.

SCOTT: Granke said he's hoping to get out of the auto business altogether.

RYSSDAL: Hmmm. Let me change gears on you here for a second, Amy, and ask you about a bailout -- but not the big one we've all been talking about. Congress just passed $25 billion in loan guarantees for the auto industry. How's that playing over there and what are people saying?

PERSON: Right. These low-interest loans are supposed to help the industry transition to more-fuel-efficient vehicles. And supporters say the money could help keep some jobs in Michigan. But, you know, $25 billion? GM lost more than that last year. The Michigan economy has been so battered, I think people are saying it will take more than revitalizing the auto industry to get things back on track.

RYSSDAL: Hmmm. And you are heading back out on the road this afternoon. Where are you going?

PERSON: Well, I've made it to Cincinnati already, where I just talked to a car dealer who's looking at closing down his business, if things don't improve for him. I've put about 1,200 miles or so on my rental car and I've got another 350 to go to St. Louis.

RYSSDAL: And we will see you there on Friday. We will be doing the broadcast from KWMU in St. Louis. Amy Scott, out there looking for the Road to Ruin. Thanks, Amy.

PERSON: No problem. See you there.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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